Try Freezing Your Pans for Easy Meal Prep |  Seasonal Food and Country Style Recipes

Try Freezing Your Pans for Easy Meal Prep | Seasonal Food and Country Style Recipes

Imagine having a freezer full of delicious homemade meals, ready to be heated and served when you get home from work or from shopping. Freezing prepared foods in advance combines the satisfaction of homemade meals with the convenience of store-bought ones.

Keep in mind these facts when freezing prepared foods. Freezing does not improve the texture, flavor or quality of food. It will only be as good as the product you start with.

Quickly chill the cooked food that you will be freezing to maintain the safety of the food. Skillet casseroles or stews cooked in deep pans can be set in a pan of cold or ice water to cool. Stir the product in the pan occasionally so that the cooler outside will be mixed with the warmer center of the pan. Change the water around the pan as it absorbs heat from the food. When the food product cools sufficiently to package, place it in moisture-vapor-resistant materials to prevent freezer burn. Label product with name, ingredients and date.

Another method to hasten cooling time is to divide the food product into small portions. Less volume cools more quickly.

Casseroles cooked in traditional casserole dishes are more difficult to cool quickly. The more shallow the casserole, the greater the surface area for the heat to escape. An 8-inch-square baking pan will cool more quickly than a 2-quart round casserole that is deeper. Set the casserole on a cooling rack so that cool air can surround the product from all sides.

To freeze pans, cover them with vapor-proof wrap. Casserole dishes can also be wrapped in heavy duty foil — regular foil is more likely to tear. If your supply of casserole dishes is limited, you can line the dish with greased foil, allowing extra foil for handles. Then, freeze the cooked saucepan; lift the frozen food out of the saucepan; wrap it completely and return it to the freezer. Meanwhile, the casserole dish will be free for other uses until you want to reheat the casserole.

When highly acidic foods, highly spicy foods, salty foods or vinegary foods contact foil, little black pinholes may form or even a blue liquid deposit on the food. This is a harmless reaction and presents no safety problem if you eat the food. However, you can trim off the discolored portion of food to improve its appearance. Therefore, if your casserole contains ham (salty) or tomato sauce (acidic), you may modify the above directions as follows. Remove the frozen casserole from the foil used in baking, and wrap it in plastic wrap, before rewrapping it in heavy duty foil or placing it in a plastic freezer bag. Just remember to remove the plastic wrap before reheating it for serving. If you are freezing it in the original casserole, place plastic wrap or a sheet of parchment paper between the food and the foil.

Do not allow food to cool at room temperature for longer than two hours. Bacteria that can cause food-borne illness can multiply to dangerous levels when the food is in the danger zone (40 to 140 F) for more than two hours. It is safe to put warm food in the refrigerator or freezer, but it may warm the temperature of already chilled or frozen foods. When these already frozen foods become warmer, frozen water inside the already frozen product begins to thaw, and when refreshed, will create larger ice crystals inside the food.

Select ingredients for casseroles and stews that freeze well. Potatoes develop an off flavor when frozen and thawed. Egg whites become tough when frozen. Onions may become stronger in flavor. Noodles, rice and pasta may be frozen, but will be more musky than when fresh.

Thawing and Preparing

Leave space around the containers or packages to allow cold air to circulate for rapid, even cooling.

Frozen casseroles should never be thawed at room temperature on the counter. Foods containing fish, meat, eggs or other high-protein ingredients should be thawed in the refrigerator or microwave. The ideal situation is to thaw them in the refrigerator where the temperature should be between 34 and 40 F. Depending upon the volume of the food and the water content, frozen food may take overnight to several days to thaw. For quicker thawing, defrost the casserole in the microwave oven and reheat it immediately after defrosting. Learn how to use the defrost feature on your microwave — it is usually 30% of full power. The defrost cycle allows for standing time for heat to distribute more evenly in the food. A large saucepan will thaw more quickly if it can be broken into pieces and stirred during the thawing process. Some foods can be thawed and heated using a double boiler — this is ideal for creamy foods. Reheat pans to an internal temperature of 165 F or higher. Bring soups, sauces and sauces to a rolling boil.

Foods prepared in freezer-to-oven-safe containers can be taken directly from the freezer and immediately placed in the oven for thawing and heating. Allow extra time to reheat foods from the frozen state.

Plan now and freeze prepare foods to quickly have tasty homemade meals on your dinner table.

If you have food preservation questions, a home economist is available to answer questions on Wednesdays from 10 am to 2 pm, by calling 717-394-6851 or writing Penn State Extension, Lancaster County, 1383 Arcadia Road, Room 140, Lancaster, PA 17601.

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